As a startup your main mission is very simple — it is to learn — quickly and cheaply.
To kick ass you’re going to need lots of input from many people. I think the best way of doing this is by getting your product, known as the MVP (minimal viable product) to customers as soon as possible and with as little cost to your startup as is possible. This isn’t the full featured product — as the name MVP implies, it is a very limited set of functionality which minimally demonstrates the problem your product solves and allows your learning to begin. The more time you have to learn from hands on customer feedback, the higher your probability of success.
We’re 4 months into our startup — findyourplace. We’ve spent 97 long days and nights getting our MVP out to our beta customer group for feedback. Our team is seasoned, elite and know how to work really well together — we’ve produced an amazing amount in such a short period of time. I’m super proud, but… within a week of MVP launch, the main thought going through my head is that I wish we had it out even sooner — like 60 days.
Here are my learnings and things I’ll do different the next time around:
Be really clear on the Problem (capital P) the solution solves. Document it. Make sure every line of code in the MVP goes towards solving the Problem. If you have a new idea that’s super cool, but that doesn’t solve the problem, it’s great, but just document it for a later version of the product. We have part of our whiteboard permanently reserved just for this purpose. It allows people to get their ideas out, but keeps the focus on the here and now. Your MVP needs to be focused. Make sure its not a whole whack of cool features stitched together like Frankenstein. It should be simple and all work together to solve the Problem.
Do less, but do it better. The first version of your product should and must get used by people you don’t know and who you can’t direct — in other words, out of your control. Getting honest feedback and learning is the key. I find the most valuable feedback you can get from users is on how well your MVP solves a Problem, and even more so, what does it do? If your MVP is full of usability issues or looks sloppy, that’s what your users will focus on — they won’t be able to see through the mess. When they comment on those issues you’ll probably say “yeah, yeah we know all that, we’ll fix it later” — so… no real learning is happening. My advice is do less in terms of quantity of features, but really nail the presentation / usability so the feedback is valuable. That way you don’t waste your time or the time of the customer using it.
Listen. Don’t be emotional. Ask good questions. When you get the MVP out you’re going to get a lot of feedback — some of it you’re just not going to like. You’ll hear things like “this just doesn’t feel right” or “this looks like a piece of shit”. Customers are not professional testers — they are customers. How customers feel when using your product is very important, in fact it’s the most important thing. You’ve invested your blood, sweat and countless all nighters into your MVP, so when you hear negative comments it can be emotional. The best thing you can do for your startup is to ask them “why?”, and to do it with the genuine interest of learning and of valuing how they feel. You will be amazed at how much you will learn by not putting your energy into defending the work you have done, but instead, by listening and asking great questions.
Ask questions first. Kick ass later.